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Monday, November 1, 2010



Monday, 9:00 AM. 36 degrees, up from 30 degrees an hour earlier. Wind W, calm. The sky is crystal clear and the channel sparkles in the morning sunlight. The barometer predicts a beautiful day.
One of my great pleasures is to find a book in my own library that I have forgotten to read, or perhaps one that I wish to reread. The World Was My Garden, Travels of a Plant Explorer, by David Fairchild (1869-1954), is one of the former which I have just finished reading. A chance acquisition in 1993 in Delafield, WI, it is long out of print. I must have bought it because I had recently visited the Fairchild Botanical Garden in Miami. Anyway, it collected dust all these years except when it was packed to move somewhere. Fairchild became the first Director of what was then called the USDA Plant Introduction Service in 1898. A Kansas farm boy educated at the University of Kansas, he literally tripped into the drawing rooms of tycoons and socialites who found his scientific ability, charm and enormous energy to their liking, and he spent a good portion of a long life traveling with them on scientific and horticultural explorations, or as their agent. Yet at heart he was a simple man who would rather be with his plants, microscope and camera that anwhere else.
Fairchild’s friends and associates included Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers, and he witnessed the birth of the American technological revolution. His plant explorations were world wide, and encompassed jungles, deserts, rivers and mountaintops; forbidden cities and cannibal islands. His personal motto was ,"Push on!" and he certainly did. His work for the US Department of Agriculture primarily involved finding and introducing new crop plants, from Durham wheat to mangoes and everything in between. He was responsible for many new agricultural industries, primarily in Florida and California. In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries agriculture was still king in the U.S., and new crops greatly desired. This was before there was much knowledge or appreciation of plant ecology, and all this moving around of plants had a downside, i.e., the introduction of a lot of invasive plants and pests along with all the good stuff. But on balance, our national diet and economy were enormously improved because of these early efforts.
Frankly, this is a book that can be enjoyed as much as an adventure story and for its truly wonderful writing as for its scientific content. My own career in botanical garden and arboretum management was pretty prosaic in contrast, but I was involved with enough of the science and adventure of plant exploration and introduction to appreciate the autobiography of a real pioneer in the field. You can find the book used, on-line, for $30 upwards. It is a great read, very inspirational, and it encourages us all, to say, "The World Is Our Garden."

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